Monday, May 30, 2011

Plot: Maturation

Can you say young adult? Yes, this plot is at the heart of the young adult novel. It isn't limited to this genre classification, many plots feature some type of growth or change, but to mature implies growing up.

As with the previous plots this is three acts, but you must start by introducing the normal in your characters world, which may not be healthy. Think, Harry Potter. What parent or adoptive parent would make a child sleep in a cubby hole under a stairwell and not allow that child into their normal family life? Your character doesn't have to live in a healthy environment, but they still must be immature, their goals not yet defined. With this introduction, the reader can see what your characters moral state is, how does he think and act? Your character doesn't need to be perfect. In fact, most young adults have not developed the strength of character adults are modeled after. Right from wrong choices can be confused with emotions and motivations. Harry Potter didn't know he had magical powers and put his cousin in a snake display at the zoo releasing the snake that slithered away. We laughed and easily forgave him. However, if Harry had been 31 instead of 11, we may have viewed this scene differently, applying adult morals to Harry's behavior. Thus the reader understands your character before he undergoes change.

Act 1:
Now comes the catalyst, the event that you throw at your character which will change who they are. (I feel a little like Dr. Phil there. LOL). In Harry Potter, he receives an invitation to attend Hogwarts in person by Hagrid. Harry has a choice. Stay with the Dursley's or go to a wizarding school, alone, without knowing anything about wizards. This must have been scary, it must have shaken his belief system. But staying with the Dursley's would be worse. In your story, the catalyst may be a bad thing. It could be a death in the family, divorce, loss of a best friend who moved away. Magic in your story may not be a plot point but your ability to capture the emotions and confusion of your character in a believable way.

Act 2:
The choice for Harry was easy, he went to school. But in many young adult novels the character resists change. They don't want to grow up and leave the security of their home and family. This change and the characters attitude toward that change will depend on the overall goal of your plot. For Harry, it must have felt like a breath of fresh air, but for a child who is losing his parents in a divorce the feelings would be confusion, blame and acting out in a rebellious way. Even so, Harry doesn't conform to the rules at his new school. He breaks the rules all the time and learns early on that the wizard who killed his parents wants to kill him too. Most of us would want to hide if faced with this threat, but Harry is a hero and hiding doesn't occur to him.

The lessons in act 2 come at a price that is either tangible or intangible.

Quote: He may lose his sense of confidence or self-worth; he may lose all his earthly possessions. He has moved from a world that was safe to a world that is unpredictable and perhaps even hostile. -Ronald B/ Tobias, 20 Master Plots and how to build them.

In Harry Potter, the wizarding world is both wonderful and dangerous. It is certainly unpredictable but also delightful. He has made enemies on his first day and true friends as well. While the Dursley's didn't give Harry Potter the love he longed for, at least his life wasn't threatened by an evil wizard. (That he was aware of anyway).

As the author, you must test your characters and his beliefs. Does he rise to the challenge or fail?

Act 3:
How has your character changed? Have they grown? The point of most young adult novels is to have the character accept the challenge and grow up. We aren't talking Peter Pan here, oh no. Most maturation plots have a positive outcome. In Harry Potter, he faces the wizard who murdered his parents, alone. He has changed to the point that he is able to resist the temptation and lies that are offered to him and protect the object that the evil wizard wants to get. Harry wins the day. (I won't say more in case you didn't read the book or see the movie). The change in Harry is real and not just a false pretense. The change in your character must also be real.

In your story you may choose to live one day in the character's life or years. You may write a short story or a series that spans one or more life times. You may write about the nitty gritty here and now or about the ancient past, the near future or a fantastical realm. Regardless of the story type, the maturation plot makes your protagonist grow from a child into a more mature child or an adult.

Next week the master plot is, Love.

For more on the maturation plot please read, 20 Master Plots and how to build them, by Ronald B. Tobias, available from your local retailer or at an online store. Or click on the link to Amazon's site and get it there.

Do you have a young adult plot in your future?

(Happy Memorial Day)


Misha said...

I love maturation plots. I love the feeling of accompanying a character on his/her journey of life.


Jules said...

I wish I had a young adult. I'd plot them right into cleaning my gutters today.

Happy Memorial Day!
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Stina Lindenblatt said...

LOL I write YA, so there's definitely a YA plot in my future. I'm in seriously trouble if there isn't. ;)

N. R. Williams said...

I love em too, Misha.

Good idea Jules. LOL

Hi Stina, I suspect you would be in trouble.

Thanks everyone for stopping by.

Kay Theodoratus said...

Good point. Most people, regardless of age, have room to grow. If they don't, they create a more interesting plot situation.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

My character had definite goals and reached adulthood by the beginning of my book, but he was still socially immature and mistrusting. His story was all about growing into a balanced, mature adult.

Holly Ruggiero said...

I don't know.

I a little tired (the heat I think) 'cause I read that last line as "Do you have an adult plot in your future?" which then made me think I'd misread your entire post.

N. R. Williams said...

I agree Kay.

I hear you Alex. I think the flaws in our characters no matter their age make for great growth opportunities.

Holly, that is funny.

Thanks you all for stopping by.

The Golden Eagle said...

I've never written a young adult plot based on maturation; I do try to show character growth in what I write, though.

N. R. Williams said...

Interesting Golden, thanks for coming by.

LTM said...

this is awesome, Nancy! I love reading posts like this b/c it keeps my brain jogged and my focus on. You rule~ :o) <3

Susan Oloier said...

Great post. The maturation plot (as found in Harry Potter and even Percy Jackson) is very much like Joseph Campbell's The Heroes Journey.

N. R. Williams said...

Thanks LTM, high praise.

Hello Susan, the writer's journey is so important and one of my favorite books.

Thank you both for dropping by.